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Reducing your reputation risk with an effective external communication policy

While it may sound straight forward there is more to creating an effective external communication policy than meets the eye. Deon Binneman digs deeper into this vital area of risk management and provides a useful checklist.

Irecently had a prospective client asking me to quote them on the writing of an external communication policy. I recommended a few days of work working with them, but the client was of the opinion that it required only the preparation of a 2-page document (1/2 days’ worth of work). I had to carefully explain that such a document required a lot of background research and work if you wanted to give it justice. Here’s why…

A well designed external communications policy mitigates reputation risk. By clearly clarifying the role and extent of corporate communications organizations can ensure that they have some control over the flow of accurate messages. However, many organizations only focus on the development of a policy for dealing with the media, and this has become a problem.

Who is the Media today? Media today has become fragmented, organized, unorganized and superfast. Today every person has the ability to have a voice and has the tools to post true or fake messages.

The concept of a Media Policy is a sound one but needs to be seen and placed in the context of overall corporate communications.

A media policy that tells staff who will speak to the media can be done in a simplified manner. However, dealing with the media is so specialized, that it requires further attention and description. It is vital that this policy be constantly updated to reflect current best practice thinking and environmental (public opinion) considerations.

If you want to design and write a best practice policy you will need to include policies, strategies, and hints to deal with not only traditional media but also communication with other stakeholders covering all other external corporate communications actions. For that, you will need specialized help. You can either work with your PR company or enlist the services of a specialist to assist you to prepare a professional policy.

Here’s a brief introduction to such a policy and suggestions for further elaboration:

The objective of corporate communication policies and procedures

The objective of corporate communications policies and procedures is to ensure that the information contained in all communication with the public is consistent, accurate, fair and timely, and builds the organization’s reputation.
To ensure this, a company needs to:

  • Comply with all laws and regulations regarding public disclosure of material events, financial results and operations.
  • Be committed to non-selective, fair disclosure of information about the organization without advantage or disadvantage to any participant in the financial market place.
  • Decide whether it will voluntarily disclose any non-material information, which is not the subject of a confidentiality agreement and determined by senior management to be in the interest of stakeholders, shareholders, the investment community, and the public.
  • Communicate all disclosures to the media by an authorised media relations representative or designate.
  • Control all disclosures to the financial community, including investment analysts, brokers and current or potential investors – ideally communicated by the CEO or their designate(s).
  • Ensure that all media releases, information prepared for the stakeholder community, and all other company-related information for public disclosure follow the procedures for review and approval outlined herein.

Management needs to be responsible for ensuring that this policy and related procedures are communicated and followed consistently in their operations.

Non-compliance with this policy may damage the organization’s reputation and/or cause the organization and/or its shareholders to be prejudiced and to suffer damages and/or losses.

Adherence to these policies should be checked by the compliance, legal, and audit divisions and they should add this to their checklists.

It should be communicated to employees that, as with all policies, any non-compliance will be treated as serious and will result in disciplinary action and could give rise to civil and/or criminal liability on the part of the employee.

This policy and its procedures should be carefully communicated to all employees.

What should it contain?

Procedures for preparation, review and approval of external communication materials should include:

  • Media relations tips and rules
  • Social media usage and prescribed tools – especially Twitter, Tik Tok etc.
  • Spokesperson conduct, rules, and tips
  • Cyber security rules
  • Stakeholder relations communications inc. financial and industry analyst relations
  • Live or virtual conferences/seminars/roundtable/speaking opportunities/white papers/opinion pieces
  • Corporate identity
  • Email signatures
  • Crisis communications, including holding statement approval
  • Acquisitions, mergers, partnerships, subsidiaries and associates communication
  • Naming conventions – definitions and terminologies
  • Customer/external newsletters
  • Website – upkeep and changes
  • Podcasts and Vlogs
  • Use of images – internal and external
  • Internal newsletters and intranet usage (Part of external communications because they may be exposed to clients or given to customers)
  • Blogs and Vlogs (written and video) and RSS feeds, etc

What about the use of mobile media (mobile phones, camera phones), other emerging tools, technologies and modes of communication that are affecting organizations?

Have you considered how communications professionals from across the spectrum are harnessing these tools to engage in conversations, deepen and strengthen relationships with key audiences, gain new insights into their audiences’ perceptions and activity and shape public opinion?

All these factors need to be researched as context for a well-designed communication policy. One that encourages engagement but within legal and reputational frameworks.
From a reputation risk perspective, you want clear policies and guidelines for all of these areas.

The author

Deon Binneman, management consultant, trusted advisor, keynote speaker and professional training facilitator, is an expert in reputation management. For a Media Relations in a Crisis tip sheet, e-mail info@deonbinneman.com



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